July to August 2001 Editorial

HEADING MY Editorial is an illustration of Emperor Kangxi (1) (1662-1722) who as far as I can tell from Emperor of China: Self-Portrait of K’ang-hsi by Jonathan D. Spence, was born in May 1654, began his reign in 1661 and died on December 20th, 1722. I presume recorded Chinese emperors’ enthronements start with the Chinese New Year, but I will be happy to be corrected, as it is never too late to learn! The illustration comes from Christie’s Hong Kong November 2nd, 1999 catalogue, “Kangxi, Yongzheng, Qianlong: Imperial Wares from the Robert Chang Collection”, page 14, where the accompanying article by Rosemary E. Scott, Christie’s Senior Academic Consultant, Asian Art Departments, is recommended. Discreet enquiries elicited the information that the anonymous painting was previously illustrated in Court Painting in the Qing Dynasty: The Collection of the Palace Museum, Cultural Relics Publishing House, 1992, plate 15.

This edition features the spectacular cover article “Glorious Innovations-Imperial Porcelains of the Kangxi Era” by Anthony Lin, who is Chairman of Christie’s Asia (2). The ex-Robert Chang famille rose ruby-ground “lotus” bowl seen on our cover sold for HK$12,120,000 in November 1999 at Christie’s in Hong Kong. It has been described by Anthony Lin as “a triumph of technology and artistry with the bright and pastel shades of blue, pink, yellow and white and green in admirable balance.”

Incidentally Edward Dolman, CEO, Christie’s International, has sent me his summary and thoughts on the Spring 2001 auction season at Christie’s Rockefeller Center New York:

“It got off to a spectacular start on March 20th when our Fine Chinese Ceramics and Works of Art sale set a world auction record for an Asian work of art. The piece in question was a masterfully cast bronze ritual wine jar, a fanglei, from the late Shang/early Western Zhou. It was a magnificent object and immediately provoked a fierce battle between two collectors bidding on the phone. The bidding started at US$2.6 million and jumped in US$100,000 increments until the hammer came down on the record price of US$9,246,000, selling to a private collector and breaking the previous record of US$8.5 million that was achieved at Christie’s New York in 1996 for a Korean dragon jar.

“Another highlight of the sale was the group of forty-seven pieces of Tang sancai pottery from The Collection of Alan and Simone Hartman. In order to keep this exquisite collection intact we decided to offer it as a single lot and it was bought by a European collector for US$1.38 million.

“Overall the sale was a brilliant success totalling an impressive US$13.9 million-the highest total ever achieved for a sale of Chinese Works of Art in New York. Throughout the sale bidding by collectors from both the West and Asia was steady in all categories and the atmosphere was positive. Collectors around the world continue to respond to works of art of impeccable quality, provenance and condition, and I believe this sale is a portent of events yet to come in the 2001 international auction season.”

In more than thirty years in the specialised fields of Asian art Suzanne Mitchell (3) has been a graduate student (Japanese art history at the University of Michigan), museum curator (Detroit Institute of Arts), auction house executive (Sotheby’s New York), and an owner and president of a private gallery (Suzanne Mitchell Asian Fine Arts) since the last five years. I interviewed her at her gallery at 17 East 71st Street on my last trip to New York because her prices are attractive for professional people, younger executives and new collectors:

Tuyet Nguyet-When did you leave Sotheby’s?

Suzanne Mitchell-I left Sotheby’s in 1996 to begin my own business and have been at this location for four years. I specialise in Japanese and Korean paintings with a fairly broad range of screens and hanging scrolls. Our price range is equally broad with screens priced between US$15,000 and US$400,000 and hanging scrolls from US$10,000 to US$300,000. Americans have a decided preference for screens; I think it’s that grand format which is so impressive. However, these large pairs require at least twenty-one running feet for proper display, so smaller pairs of two-fold screens have been most popular among private collectors. The larger pairs are in demand by our museum clients.

My business is split almost equally between institutions and private collectors; and while we are familiar with the more established collections, it is the new collector whom we would like to also reach. Some of our new acquaintances come from Toraya, the wonderful Japanese tea room on the first floor of this building. When you think about it, it’s perfectly logical that anyone keen enough to come in to eat traditional Japanese sweets must have some knowledge or affinity for Japanese culture.

The business is also very active in Korean art. Although my formal training was in Japanese art, Korean art has been a great interest of mine for the last twenty years or more. When I was a curator in Detroit I bought my first piece of Korean art in 1979; back then there were far fewer museums actively acquiring in this field. Since its peak in the mid-90s, the Korean market has been a bit erratic, particularly in the ceramics area. This has not affected me much since I work more in the paintings area and painting prices have been more stable, probably because demand remains high and far outstrips supply.

I am constantly looking to add to our inventory and travel all over to find the right pieces. Sometimes a promising trip will yield nothing and be so disappointing but then the next trip will reap a bounty of good pieces. I really think it is more difficult to find Korean art, partly because there was far less produced than in larger countries such as China, and also because so much of it has not survived. Japan is a large repository for Korean works although much of it is already in museums and unavailable. Here in the US many museums have Korean ceramic collections but need to build in the paintings area.

T.N.-What is the best way to hang Japanese scrolls?

S.M.-Think of them as temporal additions to a space; that is, enjoy a piece for a period of time and then rotate it for another and give the painting a rest. Enjoy a painting for its seasonal aspects or hang it to celebrate a special occasion. Unlike our custom with Western paintings, scrolls aren’t meant to be permanently on display and that is part of the fun. I think many times people hang a painting and after a few weeks they really don’t see it anymore, so aside from the importance of conserving the work of art, it also keeps the eye fresh. Just remember that light and dryness are your two biggest enemies, so keep paintings out of direct light and invest in humidifiers.

T.N.-How do you visualise the future of the Japanese art market?

S.M.-The Japanese market is a stable one and offers a terrific opportunity for collectors because great quality is still affordable. Within the Asian fields, it is a market that is not nearly as big as the Chinese area and never will be. I feel that Japanese art is still markedly undervalued and provides unique opportunities for building a really wonderful collection.

T.N.-Where in America can one go to study and learn more about Japanese art?

S.M.-Visit museums. Every region of America has solid representations of Japanese art so no one is terribly far away from a good resource. The Japanese collection at the Boston Museum of Fine Arts is probably the best known worldwide but there are also great collections at the Freer in Washington, the Cleveland Museum, the Seattle Art Museum, and the Metropolitan in New York. There are really excellent collections in or near almost every major city in this country-we are so fortunate.

T.N.-Why do Americans enjoy Japanese art?

S.M.-During the occupation years of the 50s some spectacular Japanese art came into both museums and private collections in this country. This continued into the 60s and 70s and was augmented with top-notch, special exhibitions of Japanese art sent by the government of Japan to various museums here in the US. As a result, many Americans have had access to the finest Japanese art. We have also been exposed to many aspects of it, from the pared-down, minimal approach associated with Zen expression, to the highly decorative works of the Meiji period that were much in vogue at the turn of the century.

There is really no single face to Japanese art and the fun is in finding exactly that niche which is most appealing to you and running with it. It reminds me a little of my own career. I’ve been through three reincarnations and in the first two, I had to manage large and diverse inventories. Now, in this third phase of my career as a private dealer, I work with far fewer pieces but I can personally select the art I want around me and take the time to thoroughly understand it. This is the best yet and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

I note a movement of gallery owners to New York. While Kagedo’s primary offices and collections are still at Seattle, they have also opened in May by appointment at Kagedo Japanese Art on East 71st Street, just off Park Avenue. Greg Lulay is the assistant director to contact (tel: 212-628-8038). For information about Kagedo’s collections, upcoming exhibitions or recent catalogues call 206-467-9077 or visit their website at www.kagedo.com.

Linda Wrigglesworth has specialised in Qing period costume and Imperial textiles at her London gallery (34 Brook Street) for more than twenty years. As visiting curator and adviser she has worked with museums as well as collectors throughout the world. With scholar Gary Dickinson she is author of Imperial Wardrobe, Ten Speed Press, Berkeley, California, 2000. The full-length 19th century Manchu Imperial consort’s Chaofu robe (4) in Linda Wrigglesworth gallery’s collection is embroidered with golden dragons and iridescent clouds and waves on a beautiful greenish-yellow silk.

Once again Margaret Duda, a professional writer, photographer and jewellery designer, from State College, Pennsylvania, presents a new collecting subject for our eager readers. With the title “Grooming Kits and Fragrance Carriers in Qing China”, these include a large variety of silver artefacts such as: spoons for incense, tobacco bowl cleaners, personalised seals, moustache combs, tongue scrapers, needle cases and religious charms. Earpicks and toothpicks are common in several variations. Illustrated here are four rectangular fragrance carriers, described on page 56 (5).

Gerald Yong Yu-Li, author of the article “The Theme of Youth in Dehua and Shiwan Art: Mao Period 1955-1976” on pages 62-73 of this issue has told me that it was difficult to present given the sensitive nature of the politics in its day. In reporting his researches in conversations on the mainland with Chinese potters who were present as youths and are now middle aged, he has found it hard not to appear like an official mouthpiece when repeating quotations of the period. His article is illustrated with a wide range of blanc de Chine examples from Dehua and glazed and painted pottery figures from Shiwan. Mr Yong explains their relevance to the official literature and politics of the period and provides useful references.

For his fifth historic photographic exhibition in Hong Kong, Dennis George Crow announces that it will be held on October 22nd to 28th at Galerie E, 7th Floor, AON China Building, 29 Queen’s Road Central. He promises to bring rare and early photographs of Hong Kong and China by John Thompson, Milton Miller, W.O. Floyd, Felice Beato, Thomas Child, William Saunders, Afong and others. The dating for the majority of the photographs is between the late 1850s and the 1870s and they come from private collections and dealers in Europe, the US and Australia. I notice this is a return to his early policy relating to date, which for his fourth show, held in April 2001 at the same venue, several came from a much later period, for example a 1957 gelatin silver print of the late Chairman Mao at work while travelling in a railway carriage, with cigarette in one hand, pen in the other, and tea mugs nearby.

How women have changed! Supreme examples could be seen in two Hong Kong exhibitions held in April/May 2001. From April 26th to May 13th China Art, G/F, 15 Hollywood Road, Central, Hong Kong, were showing an exhibition of over 700 Shanghai posters which, although they existed in China as early as 1885 as calendars, reached a peak in the 1930s. “Foreign companies coming to China during the early 20th century pinpointed calendar posters as an effecting marketing tool. However they were not as effective as they had hoped. The big bang came when they employed well-known artists painting attractive Chinese ladies (6). Instantaneously they became the new and popular marketing media as well as a means of combining art and commercialism.”

It was in 1986 that Alisan Fine Arts, 315 Prince’s Building, 10 Chater Road, Central, Hong Kong, held their first Walasse Ting exhibition. Walasse Ting was born in Wuxi, China in 1929, studied at the Shanghai Art Academy, moved to Hong Kong in 1946, arrived in Paris in 1950, moved to New York in 1958, became an American citizen in 1974 and currently lives in Amsterdam. Known for his colourful acrylic on Chinese ink paintings, at his latest Alisan Fine Arts exhibition on April 27th to May 25th, mainly of women, we were shown his “Black and White World”.

“We were very pleased with the results of the exhibition”, says Alice King, the gallery owner who is seen with the artist (7). This was the first show in Hong Kong consisting solely of his black and white ink paintings and it generated a good deal of excitement. Sales reflected this. Quite a few people commented on the strength of these paintings. The absence of colour allows the eye to focus on the quality of his brushwork, and acknowledges more clearly his Chinese roots.

“A visit from Walasse Ting is great fun. He is larger than life, unpredictable, and has a sly sense of humour. Sometimes it takes a moment to figure out whether he is joking or serious”, Alice King notes. Although Mr Nguyen Lai, Artist-Director of Nam Song Art Gallery, 41 Trang Tien Street, Hanoi, Vietnam (Tel: 84-4-8262993) claims in his introduction that they are honoured “to introduce a number of contemporary painters-from the old age ones who were graduated from Indochina Art College in the first decades of the 20th century-with their selected works of national and modern styles made on different material like lacquer, wood carving, oil painting, gouache and pastel”, I was a little disappointed to see that for their show, “With Heart and Soul and Mind”, held in May, 2001 at Galerie E in Hong Kong, exhibits were confined to fourteen contemporary artists who were born in Hanoi, Vietnam between 1943 and 1973 and/or studied at the Hanoi Fine Art Institute. So work from the old generation was not seen.

However, the influence of Bui Xuan Phai (1921-1988), “one of the best known and best loved artists both inside and outside Vietnam”, is reflected in the works of two Nam Son Gallery artists-Pham Duc Phong (born 1943) and Nguyen Thi Minh Thu (8) (born 1969)-in their country village and small town street scenes.

xWhile more obviously Pham Binh Chuong (born 1973) in his similar subject oils is closer to realism, Pham Mai Chau (9) (born 1953) in his posed portraits is surely a photo-realist. He graduated from Ontario College of Art, Toronto, Canada in 1989 following earlier studies in Hanoi’s academies.

One must expect to find lacquer paintings in such a representative art show. In Arts of Asia, September-October 1971, I wrote on this subject myself (perhaps for the very first time in English) in an article I titled “Peaceful Vietnam-A School of Lacquer Painting”, at that time as always looking ahead to the future. Although the lacquer style was already called “Hanoi painting” in the South it dated to Thanh Le, who set up his factory in Thu Dau Mot in 1940. Most notable were Thanh Le’s lacquer interior decorations for the French super-liner, the Normandie, before the Second World War. Many of his earlier trained students and apprentices set up their own ateliers near him. To explain the variety of possibilities in lacquer “Hanoi painting”, illustrated are a still life by Bui Huu Hung (10) (born 1957), and “Before the Wedding” by Cong Quoc Ha (11) (born 1955).

On May 25th I rushed to Shanghai to attend the opening ceremony and banquet dinner on the following day for the Shanghai Museum’s exhibition “Treasures from Snow Mountain-Gems of Tibetan Cultural Relics” (see the article by Chen Kelun in this issue on pages 130-133). I was pleasantly surprised to find Shanghai a much cleaner and greener city. The people are fashionably dressed and look happy and hopeful towards the future. I was told that Shanghai residents earn the best salaries within China and the city is an autonomous metropolis with a population of 15 million. It is not related to any province, except being supported by two beautiful cities: Hangzhou and Suzhou. Famous Chinese politicians such as President Jiang Zemin and Premier of the State Council Zhu Rongji are former Mayors of Shanghai.

In the morning of the exhibition opening I had the pleasure of meeting in his office Professor Chen Xiejun, the new Director of the Shanghai Museum (his photograph was taken in Tibet) (12). Also present was Arts of Asia contributor Chen Kelun, Deputy Director of the Shanghai Museum, and Mr Zhou Yan Qun, Executive Chief, Cultural Exchange Office, and Associate Curator of the Shanghai Museum. Following a personal tour of the exhibition they took me to a very good lunch at the museum restaurant.

In the afternoon at the opening ceremony Director Chen in concluding his speech briefing his exclusive invited guests said, “The success of this exhibition owes a lot to the strong support from the Tibetan and Shanghai governments and other related departments. This exhibition marks friendly cooperation between the cultural relics unit of the two regions in the context of grand development scheme of West China. Chairman Lek Chok and Mayor Xu Kuangdi contributed the Foreword and Message to the exhibition, which added to the importance of the exhibition. Vice-Chairperson Tsiram Zuoga showed great concern to the selection of exhibits and transportation of the exhibition and gave a great help to solve problems. The Shanghai Museum sent personnel in eight shifts to Tibet for investigation and exploration and they were strongly supported and well received by various cultural relics units of Tibet. As a conclusion, I would like to extend my sincere gratitude to leaders and units concerned.”

Important people from Hong Kong in both the business and the art world came for the exhibition opening including generous donors such as T.T. Tsui. From the auction houses, present were Henry Howard-Sneyd of Sotheby’s and Anthony Lin and Hugo Weihe of Christie’s. I am seen with Mr Jam pa kal Sang, Director of the Administrative Office of the Potala Palace, Mr Chen Kelun and Gay Co, a lama from the Potala Palace (13).

Gay Co was in charge of bringing the famous Tibetan cultural relics to the Shanghai Museum exhibition. I was the only English language Asian art publisher who was invited and attended the opening ceremony and enjoyed the delicious banquet that followed. I wish both China and Tibet well.

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